I have often wondered what drives us towards a specific vocation. Because of a picture in a book I opened at age 15, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I was in the library at U.S. Army Base at Fort Gulick, in the former Panama Canal Zone, browsing through the book shelves. Little did I know that in a few moments my life would suddenly change direction.
I’d never heard of Thomas Merton when I picked out his book, The Waters of Siloe. I opened it up and saw a picture of a monk. I knew immediately that this was my path. I did not have to think about it, or struggle over it; it was a given.
I finished high school knowing this was my calling. I didn’t understand how I knew, but I just did. When I was getting close to graduation, I realized I was too young to enter a monastery, so I joined the Navy for four years and ended up seeing much of the world.
While in boot camp, I learned about life on a naval ship. I knew that if I was assigned to one, I would never become a monk. One night I said to the Lord, “I think my sense of vocation to monastic life is false — I’m going to get on a ship and that will be the end of it.”
Three days later I got my orders to report to a Navy destroyer. That, I thought, was the end of my chances of becoming a monk. Then two days later, however, I was called into the company commander’s office and told that my orders and been changed — I was going to Midway Island.
Midway turned out to be a great place. I could have stayed forever; but, most important of all, during my four years in the Navy, I was never assigned to a ship.
My last tour of duty was with a Construction Battalion Unit (CBU) in Antarctica where we built much of the town of McMurdo. On the way down there, we stopped off at Christchurch, New Zealand, where I drank myself into permanent sobriety because, in my drunkeness, I found myself so empty, lonely and afraid.
Shortly after the end of my naval service, I entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. I had been there for only a few months, when someone did a reading from Thomas Merton.
This time I interpreted the reading differently — I thought, “I really need to get the hell out of here!” When I left the Chapter Room, I was convinced that I didn’t belong with these good men. I went up to my room, exhausted, and fell asleep.
While sleeping, I had a dream in which Thomas Merton came to me and asked, “Mark, do you know what a monk is?” I thought about it for a moment and said, “No, I don’t.” Merton smiled and said, “A monk is a man who clings to God, even when he is in despair.”
I woke up, went about my life at the Monastery, and have stayed for 43 years.
That dream is still fresh in my mind.
The paradox of reluctance and willingness makes this journey so powerful and authentic
What a cliff hanger!
Now I want to know exactly what it is like for a Monk to cling to God in despair.
I am not entirely sure why, but this makes me think of what C.S. Lewis said in his autobiography: “One day I simply gave up and admitted that God was God.”
Surrender is important…..I love CS Lewis.
Scott, I believe that the 22nd psalm is a common experience for humanity. The feeling of being forsaken, lost and filled at times with inner alienation. It is how we respond to that that leads us deeper….whether to trust or to give in and sink. The deeper we go I believe the stronger the pull for some people…..or for many people.
I like how God works through various channels and Merton is a strong one. I purchased a Merton book about prayer thinking I would enjoy the read and learning something new but that wasn’t the case because Merton’s style seemed relentless and endless to get to the point. This caused me to desire more; more of learning and writing and so I have done the both. I know God has place Merton in the path of many hungry souls and by his work it has directed the mind to a purpose. I see the purpose of my course as you, Mark, yet, still, I wonder at how he was so effective in moving my journey. Before I read Merton I wasn’t Catholic and certainly not a writer. After his one book my life’s map was written effectively.
Marilyn, it is perhaps how the mystical body works. Merton seems to help those who are going to write at some point in their lives. Funny, I have not read him that much, now I may start.
Beautiful article. FYI, it appears that the URL at the bottom is missing a hyphen; it should be http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com.
Thanks, Dawn, I just fixed it, Deal
Thank you Dawn, I am glad you glad you liked the article. Dreams are amazing.